The holidays are a time for giving and come January this should also include giving blood. Currently 38% of people are eligible to donate blood, but less than 10% ever do. According to the Red Cross, the number of blood donations decrease significantly during the winter months, especially in January.
The decrease in blood donations can be attributed to: holiday travel, potential donors getting the flu or cold, or inclement weather that could lead to blood drive cancellations.
In 1969, in an effort to help combat these shortages, President Richard Nixon proclaimed January to be National Blood Donor Month. Nonetheless, despite the proclamation and all the outreach done by the Red Cross, and many other blood banks, since its inception, donations still remain low. Even if the need is still high.
While the number of blood donations has increased steadily by 3% annually, the demand for blood is growing by double that, at 6% annually. In many cases, the increase in demand can be attributed to the increase of cancer and transplant patients who need blood transfusions. For instance, Over 1.6 million people every year are diagnosed with some form of cancer that is treated with chemotherapy.
Those who undergo chemotherapy have their bone marrow cells affected, which can lead to lower blood cell counts necessitating blood transfusions. Those who suffer from leukemia and lymphoma can experience internal bleeding and anemia, which would also call for blood transfusions.
The benefits of donating blood are also twofold in that they can help someone in need, while also decreasing a donor’s chance of getting cancer.
Scientific research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that iron in the bloodstream leads to free radical damage associated with cancer, and donating blood will decrease iron levels, and thus your risk of free radical damage. Additionally, research by the Miller-Keystone Blood Center also suggests that regular blood donation is linked to lower risks of cancers, including liver, lung, colon, and throat cancers.
And those aren’t the only the only health benefits. Studies published in both the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who donated regularly had lower risks of heart attacks. Not to mention people burn on average 650 calories every time they donate a pint, which is the average amount that is taken per donation.
According to the Red Cross, anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to donate every 56 days, assuming they are in good health, weigh at least 110 pounds and have high enough hemoglobin levels (cells in your body that carry oxygen). Hemoglobin is necessary for your body to produce more blood once you’ve donated, this can sometimes be more difficult for women, who produce less hemoglobin than men.
The best way to avoid being deferred for low hemoglobin levels is to prepare for donating, by eating iron rich foods, such as red meats, beans and vegetables like spinach and green pepper, and drinking water and non-alcoholic beverages.
So this New Year, add a January blood donation to your list of New Year’s Resolutions you actually will complete. To find a blood drive or donation center near you, check out the Red Cross or see if your local hospital accepts blood donations!
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.